Tag Archives: Flinders Petrie

Curator’s Diary 31/7/12: Gleanings from Gurob

A.S. Griffith's 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

A.S. Griffith’s 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

On Sunday, I attended the annual fundraising conference of the Gurob Harem Palace Project – a joint mission (Univeristy of Liverpool, UCL, Copenhagen) investigating the New Kingdom settlement site near the Faiyum that housed royal women. I enjoyed my visit to the site in April, which – though little is preserved above ground – gave me some sense of where our objects had come from. The Manchester collection contains over 700 objects from Gurob, many of which were published in a basic list form by Agnes Griffith (sister of famous Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, who once taught at the Victoria University of Manchester) in 1910. Therefore, I was keen to attend the Gurob conference and to present an overview of the Museum’s Gurob material.

Petrie’s arrangement of objects from Gurob soon after they were found; our duck vessel is bottom right.

Meetings such as this provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest discoveries, both in the field and in museums. A highlight was being made aware of digitised photographs from Petrie’s excavations (and of objects therefrom) currently available on the website of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. As Jan Picton pointed out, these arbitrary or aesthetic arrangements of objects often informed the plates and drawings that appear in Petrie’s excavation reports. It was exciting to see several objects now in Manchester shortly after they were first discovered. A personal favourite is our faience stirrup jar (Acc. no. 659) – a Mycenean shape adopted by Egyptian craftsmen  and decorated with Egyptian duck motifs.

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

It was also very interesting to hear a presentation by Dr. Valentina Gasperini, of Bologna University, who has been visiting the Museum over the last few months to work on imported pottery found at Gurob. I’m very grateful for her input into the interpretation of these objects. Many of these will appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries where, along with material from the comparable site of Amarna, they will illustrate life in a New Kingdom royal city.

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Object biography #6: The crown from a colossal statue of Ramesses II (Acc. No. 1783)

Acc. no. 1783.

Acc. no. 1783.

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, it seemed appropriate to highlight this magnificent fragment from a colossus of another monarch who celebrated 60 years on the throne. It comes from an over-lifesize granite statue of Ramesses II, named in the inscription on the back pillar as celebrating his heb-sed or jubilee festival. Ramesses II was one of only two pharaohs to rule for over 60 years. It is conceivable that the statue from which the crown comes was created for such a jubilee.

The form of the crown is complex. It comprises the tall ‘atef’ crown, with rams horns and flanked by plumes and rearing cobras (or uraei). It is supported from the back by a falcon – an image familiar from the famous statue of King Khafre in the Cairo Museum. The atef is surmounted by a solar disk with a scarab beetle carved within it, thereby combining a range of divine allusions: to Osiris, god of the dead and rebirth; Horus, god of kingship; and Khepri, the new-born sun. This iconographical mixture is very appropriate for a sed festival. This was an occasion to renew the king’s power and legitimacy as a semi-divine ruler after 30 years on the throne, and was repeated at various intervals thereafter. Assimilating with the of the gods – particularly their solar aspects – is a hallmark of the jubilees of Ramesses II.

The crown was found by William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) in the Ptolemaic temple of Isis at Coptos. Nearby, a lifesized statue of the king seated between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys was also discovered. Petrie suggested that this monument had been reemployed in the Ptolemaic temple. Although it cannot be determined when the colossus fell, it may have been reused and reinterpreted in the same way during the Ptolemaic period – almost a millennium after it was first set up.

Cartouches of Ramesses II, over the hieroglyphs for ‘jubilee festival’, framed by notched palm ribs – symbols for ‘years’.

Manchester was just one of several museums that received impressive fragments of monumental statues from sites in Egypt. This inspired 19th Century writers, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley. His famous poem Ozymandias laments the broken state of another of the colossi of Ramesses II, from his mortuary temple at Thebes. The romantic image of the isolated, ruined statue continues to dominate popular perceptions of Egyptian kings today – of vain, tyrannical, larger-than-life figures.

Yet, this crown is only one part of a statue that would have been set up within a temple, and it would have functioned as part of the architecture. It could only have been seen by those with privileged access to the temple. Very few are likely to have been able to fully decode its elaborate symbolism. Rather than simply being intended to impress ordinary people, as is often assumed of colossi, such statues were equally – if not predominantly – addressed to the gods. Colossal statues like the one this crown comes from were statements to the gods that the king was on a par with them.

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Curator’s Diary 6/4/12: Visiting Egypt (1) – the Faiyum

Yesterday I returned from a 4-day trip to Cairo. One objective of this visit was to capture digital content for the new Ancient Worlds galleries, in the form of photographs and short film clips.


Manchester holds a world-class collection of objects excavated from the ancient towns of Kahun (modern Lahun) and Gurob. Both sites are situated close to the Faiyum lake, some 130 kilometres south-west of modern Cairo. Driving with my friend and colleague Mohammed Komaty on the second day of my trip, it took just over 2 hours on the Western Desert Highway to reach the area. I had never visited the Faiyum region before, so took the opportunity to stop at another important site nearby.

Pyramid at Meidum

Meidum is the site of a large, steep-sided pyramid – a tower-like structure visible from the road. It was perhaps begun by Huni, last king of the Third Dynasty (c. 2637-2613), and was completed – if not entirely constructed – by his son Sneferu (c. 2613-2589 BC). Nearby are several large mastaba tombs (so-called because they resemble the flat, rectangular structures – hence their Arabic name, meaning ‘bench’) belonging to high-ranking officials. One of the mastabas belonged to a son of Sneferu, named Nefermaat, and his wife Itet. In addition to almost 200 other small objects from Meidum, Manchester Museum holds two decorated blocks from Nefermaat and Itet’s mastaba – both of which will feature in the new galleries.

The next stop was Gurob, the site of a royal harem palace during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1143 BC). I was very pleased my visit coincided with fieldwork by the Gurob Harem Palace Project, an international collaboration led by Liverpool University’s Dr. Ian Shaw, who showed me around the site. The Project has improved substantially our understanding of the extent and use of this intriguing settlement, the story of which will feature in the ‘Royal Cities’ section of the Egyptian World gallery.

GHPP Director Ian Shaw and Tine Bagh

GHPP Director Ian Shaw and Tine Bagh

Of particular interest is the work of Anna Hodgkinson, a friend and colleague from Liverpool, who has been excavating kilns at the site. These contain the remains of glass and faience production, but may have had other uses. It may have been here that some of the most beautiful Gurob objects now in Manchester were created. Anna kindly agreed to speak about her research on camera, which will be included in a video exploring the making of faience and glass objects.

Finally, I made a trip to the site from which arguably the greatest number of Manchester’s Egyptian objects come: the workers’ town of Lahun. Here were housed the builders of the nearby pyramid of Senwosret II (c. 1880-1874 BC) and their descendants. The site was dug extensively by William Matthew Flinders Petrie at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Despite the fact that Petrie discovered many objects that cast unprecedented light on life – and not just death – at the town, there is very little to see today. It was, however, a special privilege to be at the place that has such a close connection with objects I am getting to know so well. Although weathered, the site is still dominated by the mud-brick pyramid of Senwosret II – a feeling enhanced by the total lack of other visitors. The pyramid’s haunting majesty was intended to ensure that the king’s cult continued at the town after his death. This is attested at Lahun by the large number of papyri found there, dealing with a range of matters – including the royal cult – from long after the pyramid had received its intended occupant.

The pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun

The pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun


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